Any franchise that has produced sixteen sequels, spin-offs and iterations in only nine years has to be catering to a devoted fan base, so I guess that Super Neptunia RPG must have legions of folks willing to pick up the next title. It’s bewildering why. Super Neptunia RPG is a pretty unimpressive game and if it’s typical of the series, I can’t imagine anyone playing the fifteen that came before it and thinking, “boy, I can’t wait for the next one!”. To be fair, this is the first game in the franchise to be developed outside of Japan and the first 2D side-scroller, so maybe that’s where the quality control took a nap.
Super Neptunia RPG is a fairly rudimentary 2D, turn-based RPG with a lot of very bad platforming, annoying characters and repetitious, deeply unsatisfying combat. The closest thing it has to a redeeming quality is its characters who are aware of their function as video game heroes and make lots of asides and fourth wall-breaking jokes and references to other games, like Pokemon, The Legend of Zelda, and Final Fantasy. Further, the game takes place in a land called “Gameindustri” — yes, the references are that on the nose —and some of the characters represent various classic game consoles. A bit of this is cute or clever but there is no rhyme, reason or consistency and the meta, “game aware of being a game inside a game” conceit seems to only be there when someone remembered to add it back in.
The rest of the time, lead character Neptune is a chirpy amnesiac girl who must recover her memories and save the kingdom, blah blah blah. She meets a number of quest-giver NPCs who send Neptune out into the world to fetch any number of things, almost entirely through combat. Eventually, Neptune forms a party and the combat becomes marginally more engaging but for a very long time, it’s literally a one button, single attack mechanic that becomes almost immediately dread-inducing. Additionally and inexplicably, the enemy characters she meets in the world actually do not represent the enemies she will fight. The liquid blobs she encounters could just as easily be a gang of fantastical, magic cats. Thus, there is no way to judge whether Neptune should engage or avoid combat based on the enemy. Most of the enemies do not play into the “inside video games” conceit, either. They’re just variants of generic JRPG foes.
Super Neptunia RPG is a 2D side-scroller and exploration is limited to moving horizontally along a path or jumping on often poorly-defined platforms, and the game’s map is of little use. Imprecise controls and limited animations add to the frustration with this aspect of the game, which plays a significant role in moving through the world. Now and then, NPCs will send Neptune on optional, timed quests where, for instance, she has to find a certain number of switches in a short period. Unfortunately, bad controls and confusing exploration make these tasks nearly impossible, even if they didn’t feel arbitrary.
Neptune and many of the supporting characters are competently voiced and some of the dialogue and writing is amusingly self-aware. Out in the world, though, Neptune has a very restricted number of animations and verbal responses and they become grating in merely minutes, let alone over hours of gameplay. The music, too, outstays its welcome very quickly. It isn’t bad but becomes very repetitious.
If you have to play a game from the Hyperneptunia franchise, I suppose that Super Neptunia RPG is as good a place as any to start. Thanks to the “hero with amnesia” plot device it introduces, newcomers will be acquainted with a cast of characters that players of the series will probably be familiar with and maybe even look forward to seeing again. But brace yourself for almost immediate disappointment. The platforming, combat and quests have all been done much better by many other games and while the game references are cute and marginally unexpected, they aren’t enough to balance the scales in Super Neptunia RPG’s favor.